A summary of how a person’s estate is distributed if they die without a Will
What happens if you die without a Will?
What happens to an estate when someone dies without making a will
When someone dies ‘intestate’ (without leaving a will), their estate will be distributed in line with inheritance rules called the rules of intestacy. Under these rules, the estate will be divided between their relatives as follows...
If the person who died was married or in a civil partnership and has no children, all of their estate will go to their spouse or civil partner.
If the person who died was married or in a civil relationship but does have children, the first £270,000 of their estate will go to their spouse or civil partner, along with any of their personal possessions. Anything over £270,000 will then be divided, with the spouse or civil partner receiving 50% of this and the children entitled to divide the other 50% between them.
If the person who died wasn't married or in a civil partnership, but was living with their long term partner, this partner will not be entitled to receive anything. Co-habiting partners and long term partners are not protected under the rules of intestacy. The law does not recognise the concept of a ‘common law spouse’.
If the person who died was't married or in a civil partnership, but does have children, the whole estate will go to them. If there are no children, then the estate could go to the parents, siblings or other relatives.
It is important to note that jointly held assets may not pass under the rules of intestacy but instead pass to the surviving joint owner. This is the case where a house is owned with someone else as ‘joint tenants’ or there's a joint bank account. It works differently for property owned jointly as 'tenants in common' though. For more information, see joint tenants and tenants in common.